Uncut sheet of 17th-century geographic playing cards

P[ierre] du Val, Geographe du Roy / Cordier Sculp., LES TABLES de GEOGRAPHIE, reduites en un IEV DE CARTES (“Tables of Geography, Reduced to a Game of Cards”). Paris: Pierre du Val, 1669.
Engraving on laid paper, 16”h x 21 ¼”w plus margins, spot color.

A complete and uncut sheet of 17th-century geographic playing cards published in Paris by Pierre du Val likely for educational use.

The game includes 52 cards arranged in the usual four suits, each dedicated to a continent: hearts to Europe, diamonds to Asia, spades to Africa, and clubs to the Americas. Each card features a kingdom or region followed by a list of its major subdivisions and their capitals; for example, the clubs include among others cards for Canada, Virginia, Florida, New Mexico, New Spain, Peru and Chile. The eight of clubs, dedicated to Canada, describes its “8 principal European colonies,” including New England (capital at Boston) and New Holland (capital at “Manhatte”). The face cards feature medallion portraits of actual or legendary national figures, such as Montezuma on the card for New Spain. The rules of the game are not specified, but presumably required players to commit to memory the subdivisions and capitals shown on each card.

At the top the sheet are the title, dedication to the Dauphin (Louis of France, 1661-1711, who never acceded to the throne), and four tiny continental maps. The American map is of particular interest, as California is shown as an island, there appears to be a land bridge to Asia, and a massive southern continent looms in the southern Pacific.

The game was issued separately but also appeared in one or more editions of du Val’s atlas Cartes de geographie les plus nouvelles et les plus fideles. Tooley writes that du Val (1618-1683) “published a large number of maps which each appear in many different states and in more than one of his publications. He also compiled atlases in several editions, map games or ‘jeu de l’oie’ and town plans. He died in Paris and was succeeded by his widow and two daughters.” (Mapmakers, revised edition, vol. 2 p. 406.)

OCLC lists holdings of the playing cards in 3 American institutions (Boston Public, University of Pennsylvania and Yale) as well as a couple holding the Cartes et tables de geographie (Univ. of Chicago and Univ. of Kansas).


Very faint toning along vertical fold, some foxing and staining in margins, but very good.